Where there’s a swill, there’s a way...

Looking after the cows, pigs and chickens were all part of the job for a rural teen looking for some

Looking after the cows, pigs and chickens were all part of the job for a rural teen looking for some extra cash in the 1950s. Picture: Archant library - Credit: Archant

Keith Skipper reflects on the character-forming side of rural odd-jobs from his childhood.

While splinters multiply as you slide down the bannister of life, remember wise words you heard on the landing of youth.

That's an old Norfolk proverb I just made up to go with telling echoes from my farmyard world of over 60 years ago.

It was customary then to ask the foreman if he had an odd job going. The usual reply was along the lines of: 'Yis, go an' milk the bull. Thass an odd job …'

I was muttering and moaning about the iniquities of a system demanding dirty hands and aching limbs in return for a few coppers and a couple of saucy tales you couldn't repeat.

The Saturday job was getting me down. I scowled at cattle waiting for feed, chickens itching to be mucked out and pigs spoiling for another trough-and-tumble over pails of swill.

I kicked at the chaff-cutter, cursed the pain shooting through my toes and asked my ancient minder why such mundane tasks survived into the middle of the 20th century. His smile and response shamed me with their gentle reproach.

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'Come on, bor. Try and enjoy yarself now … these here are the good ole days yew'll talk about later on!'

He was right, of course, and probably had been offered the self-same advice by another Norfolk son of the soil many years before. The sort of homely wisdom worth handing down whenever rebellious youth threatened to veer out of control.

I was upbraided more than once by parish elders before leaving school and discovering they really did know a few things about life and its little vagaries. Thankfully, there were opportunities to go back with a dash of gratitude and humility.

Yes, I am a touch sentimental about my rural roots, but certain points about closely-knit and predominately self-sufficient communities of more than 60 years ago deserve emphasising whenever grandiose schemes to 'revive country life' are mooted.